Monday, February 29, 2016

Can we agree on one thing?

I keep hearing about the Hill Cumorah. By this I mean the site of the final battles of the Nephites and Jaredites. One one side, you have people who believe the Hill Cumorah is in western New York. On the other side, you have people who believe that Hill Cumorah is somewhere in Central America (Mesoamerica).

I don't care if people hold different opinions, but I do care when people misrepresent or suppress the facts.

I propose that everyone agree to these facts.

1. Oliver Cowdery's Letter VII unequivocally identifies the New York hill as the Book of Mormon Hill Cumorah. He wrote: "At about one mile west rises another ridge of less height, running parallel with the former, leaving a beautiful vale between. The soil is of the first quality for the country, and under a state of cultivation, which gives a prospect at once imposing, when one reflects on the fact, that here, between these hills, the entire power and national strength of both the Jaredites and Nephites were destroyed. By turning to the 529th and 530th pages of the Book of Mormon, you will read Mormon's account of the last great struggle of his people, as they were encamped round this hill Cumorah. (It is printed Camorah, which is an error.) In this valley fell the remaining strength and pride of a once powerful people, the Nephites—once so highly favored of the Lord, but at that time in darkness, doomed to suffer extermination by the hand of their barbarous and uncivilized brethren. From the top of this hill, Mormon, with a few others, after the battle, gazed with horror upon the mangled remains of those who, the day before, were filled with anxiety, hope, or doubt.

2. Oliver Cowdery's letter was published in the Messenger and Advocate.

3. Joseph Smith had his scribes copy this letter into his journal as part of his own history.

4. Joseph Smith gave express permission to Benjamin Winchester to reprint Letter VII in the Gospel Reflector, which Winchester did in 1841.

5. Don Carlos Smith reprinted Letter VII in the Times and Seasons in 1841.

6. D&C 128 refers to Cumorah in the same paragraph that refers to Moroni's visit to Joseph in his home near Palmyra, the three witnesses in Fayette, and the events in Harmony and along the Susquehanna River.

7. Every Church leader who ever wrote on the topic agreed that the Book of Mormon Cumorah was in New York, at least through at least 1920.

8. Orson Pratt's 1879 footnotes were equivocal about many Book of Mormon locations, but not about Cumorah--which he unequivocally stated was in New York.

9. As an Apostle and Church Historian, Joseph Fielding Smith unequivocally declared that the Book of Mormon Cumorah was in New York, and that because of the two-Cumorah theory, "some members of the Church have become confused and greatly disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon."

10. No Church leader has officially stated that Cumorah was anywhere but New York.

Agreeing to these facts should be easy. They are all well documented. I'm not aware of any serious questions about these facts, but if there are any, I'd like to know about them.

I bring this up because of authors and speakers, articles, books and web pages that, in my opinion, deceive readers by suppressing these facts. A case in point is fairmormon here. Anyone seeking information about Cumorah who goes to fairmormon will be outright deceived by the sophistry of the rhetoric there and the suppression of the facts of Church history. Fairmormon doesn't mention Oliver Cowdery or Letter VII, Joseph's inclusion of the letter in his journal, or the multiple reprintings of the letter. They do mention Joseph Fielding Smith, but instead of quoting his extensive analysis or even providing a link, they provide only a misleading summary and conclusion.

I've written about this before but fairmormon hasn't changed the page. That tells me they don't want members of the Church--or investigators--to know the truth. This casts doubt on everything else they publish. It's fine if they want to squeeze a Mesoamerican interpretation out of the facts, but they should trust their readers enough to make up their own minds, and I don't think anyone who reads the actual history will agree with the sophistry on display at fairmormon.

I'll write about the fairmormon comments on archaeology soon.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Follow-up on Lehi's route and Isaiah 18

Astute readers have noticed that Winchester modified his views on Isaiah 18.

In my earlier post, I quoted his comments from the Gospel Reflector, which he published in 1841. In 1843, Winchester published his book, History of the Priesthood. In the interim, he had more time to think and write, and he explains his reasoning in much more detail in the book.

I don't agree with Winchester's alternative translation where he suggests "shadowing with" means "in the symbol of." I think that's his effort to make the passage fit with his idea of a hemispheric Book of Mormon setting. I won't take the time to go through my analysis, but basically I agree the passage could be translated as "Hail to the land on the wings (extremities) of the world," which is one of the options proposed by Victor Ludlow in his book. It more likely means something such as "Hail to the land obscured in extremity," meaning it is so far away no one knows about it. It's an unknown land to Isaiah's people. I've written about that elsewhere.

The main points of my blog post were:

1) Isaiah told his readers that the ensign of the Lord would be lifted up on the mountains in a land far away, "beyond the rivers of Ethiopia."

2) Nephi would have been familiar with this, so he would know he would be sailing around Africa to reach the promised land.

3) Although he didn't directly quote the chapter, Nephi alluded to Isaiah 18 in several places.

4) Hyrum Smith's famous (and oft-quoted) statement that "North and South America are the symbols of the wings" originated with Benjamin Winchester.

5) This is one example of many of Winchester's influences on LDS thinking. As Victor Ludlow put it, "Although other interpretations of Isaiah 18 are possible, the remarks of this mouthpiece of the Lord provide a basis for the view that this pronouncement is directed to America and deals with missionary work and the gathering of Israel."

So Winchester's alternative translation of Isaiah 18 becomes quasi-canonized because Hyrum Smith adopted it. The end result--that Isaiah 18 refers to the promised land--is sound, IMO. But the gloss that Isaiah was referring to all of North and South America is problematic.

At any rate, here's what Winchester had to say in History of the Priesthood, starting on p. 117. I don't have time to comment any more on this right now.


I will now invite the attention of the reader to the xviii chap. of Isaiah, which certainly contains an account of a most pleasing view that he had, of not only the establishment of the before mentioned kingdom; but of the place or land upon which it was to be commenced, which he thus describes: "Woe to the land shadowing with wings, which is beyond the rivers of Ethiopia; that sendeth ambassadors by the sea, even in vessels of bulrushes upon the waters, saying go ye swift messengers, to a nation scattered and peeled, to at people terrible from their beginning hitherto; a nation meted out and trodden down, whose land the rivers have spoiled! All the inhabitants of the world and dwellers on the earth, see ye, when He lifteth up an ensign upon the mountains; and when He bloweth the trumpet hear ye."

Now any person who is acquainted with the Hebrew language, knows that an improvement in the translation of the above can he made with propriety: -- It should read thus: "Ho! to the land shadowing with (or in the symbol of,) wings, that lies beyond the rivers of Cush. This by no means changes the sense; but reduces it to the modern style of phraseology, which I trust will greatly assist the reader in understanding the true meaning of the prophet.

But now the question is, what land does the prophet address these words to? In order to correctly come at this, we must first consider that the prophet resided at Jerusalem, or somewhere near that city; secondly, to find the land that he speaks of, it is necessary to be certain as to the location of the land of Cush or Ethiopia.

The general name that the Jews gave to all the north-part of Africa was, "the land of Cusheam." Ethiopia proper, is situated south, and south-west of, Egypt, and is now called Abbysinia; but according to Herodotus, the Ethiopian nations were very numerous; and it is evident that the Greeks, and Romans, called the most of. the African nations Ethiopians.

p. 118          

The writer of the celebrated voyage of Hanno, (which is to be found in Mr. H. Murray's Encyclopedia of Geography,) a Carthagenian navigator who attempted to sail round Africa, gives an account of Ethiopians near the Straits of Gibraltar, or Pillars of Hercules; also that he sailed twelve days along the western coast of Africa, which he says, was then inhabited by Ethiopians, who were very numerous. This coast in now called the coast of Morocco; hence, the ancient Moors were called Ethiopians or Cushites. Indeed, after a careful research into the history of this people, I have come to the following conclusion. -- Cush was the son of Ham, and his progeny, soon after the flood, settled somewhere in the neighborhood of the river Euphrates; but at a very early period, some of them emigrated to Africa, and at first, located somewhere about the head waters of the Nile. According to Josephus, these Ethiopians were a powerful nation in the days of Moses; and also, that they inhabited the country that lies south, and south-west of Egypt; but they were a warlike people and had a great desire for conquest; hence, they soon spread over the north part of Africa: and in consequence of their inhabiting the greatest part of this continent, which was then known to the civilized nations, the Jews called it the land of Cush or Cusheam; but the Greeks, and Romans gave it the general name of Ethiopia, and the people they called Ethiopians, the same as we give the inhabitants of all Europe, the general name of Europeans; although, they are divided into many nations; therefore, it is evident that in the days of Isaiah, the north part of Africa was called Cush, and the rivers that the prophet alludes to, are those that flow into the Mediterranean sea along the coast of the Barbary states; and also those that flow into the Atlantic Ocean along the coast of Morocco. Now I presume that from the foregoing, the reader will readily discover that the prophet alludes to a land that lies directly west of Jerusalem, which

p. 119

course strikes the Atlantic somewhere on the coast of Morocco; but still beyond this, is the land in the symbol of wings, which must certainly be America; for this reason, no other land will answer the description of the prophet. Indeed, if the prophet does not speak of this land, then he has wrote a mess of incomprehensible nonsense.

But there is also another view, that may be taken of this subject, which perhaps will reflect new light upon it. The word -| |-| _| Nahar not only means river, but has another signification, which is, light or knowledge. In Isaiah's day, the Carthagenians were the greatest navigators of the world, and it is asserted, that they considered as exclusively theirs, all the Mediterranean sea, west of a line stretched across from Carthago to Sicily, and that they captured all the vessels, and put to death the crews, of all other nations that were found navigating within these forbidden precincts. They were also the first that navigated about the Pillars of Hercules, the south western coast of Europe, and the western coast of Africa. In a word, in these ancient times they had the most extensive knowledge of the sea, coasts, and islands, in these parts, of any other nation; therefore, as the word Nahar signifies light or intelligence as well as river, perhaps, the prophet alludes to a land that is beyond the extreme knowledge of the Ethiopian or Cushite navigators. However, either of the above explanations, makes the idea perfectly plain, that the prophet points to America.

Again, North and South America, as will be seen from a miniature drawing of them on a map, in form and shape, very much resemble the wings of a bird; hence, it is a land in the symbol of wings, and in this respect, no other part of the globe will answer this description of the prophet. Some writers however, contend that the prophet alludes to the eagle with outspread wings upon the American ensign or flag;


but let this be as it may, the case is equally plain if we take it either way.

"That sendeth ambassadors by the sea, even in vessels of bulrushes upon the waters, saying, go ye swift messengers of the nations," &c. From this it appears, that ambassadors or the servants of the Lord, are to be sent from this land to the nations of the earth; but the idea of their being transported over the sea in "vessels of Bulrushes," is a novel affair indeed; however, it is probable that the prophet did not intend to convey any such idea. The Hebrew word gomey which is here rendered bulrushes, has at least three significations; the first, is to drink or swallow hastily; the second, is to impress; it is also a general name for certain species of the vegetable kingdom, such as reeds, bulrushes, and papyrus. But in my opinion the second import of the word should be used; for it makes the passage read intelligibly, and seems to convey the intended idea of the prophet. Job speaking of the war horse, says, as it is translated in the bible: "He (yegomey) swalloweth the ground with the fierceness of his rage:" * a horse does not swallow the ground; therefore, it should be rendered, "he impresseth the ground" that is, he maketh pits in the earth with his feet, deep impressions or tracks with his hoof, by which he prevents any retrograde motion; but rusheth or propels himself forward with force, and great velocity; therefore, it is certainly more sensible to read the above, "vessels impressing the face of the waters," instead of "vessels of bulrushes:" for it is not probable that vessels will ever be made of such material to escort the servants of God over the sea.

Indeed, does not the prophet aptly describe our steamvessels or ships: for it is by the action of the wheels upon the water, that propels the vessel swiftly forward; or in other words, the prophet saw in vision swift running, or rushing vessels, that move speedily

* Job. xxxix, 24.

p. 121

along against the wind and tide. If this is not the meaning of the prophet, then it certainly should be translated "vessels of papyrus." Historians say, that papyrus, is a flaggy shrub that grows in the marshes about the river Nile; the roots and body of it, were anciently used for fuel, and sometimes for timber, for ships or vessels, (such as were used in early times;) the bark was used as a substitute for paper, (which was not then invented,) for weaving apparel, and for ropes and sails for ships; hence, as the prophet saw our land with all the modern improvements; and also, our majestic maritime vessels, with all their sails spread, and the servants of God on board, he called them vessels of papyrus, perhaps, for the want of a better term; for he had probably seen vessels that were propelled by the action of the wind upon papyrus canvass, and those which he saw in vision, resembled them more than any others that he had ever beheld. Either one of the foregoing explanations, makes the subject perfectly plain; but for my own part I prefer the former.

"To a nation terrible from their beginning hitherto," &c. This certainly alludes to the Jews or house of Israel, who were a powerful people at their beginning; but since that, they have been scattered among the nations, and in a manner trodden down. "All the inhabitants of the world, and dwellers on the earth, see ye, when He lifteth up an ENSIGN upon the mountains," &c. An ensign is a flag or banner having on it figures, and emblematical representations of the nation to which it belongs: for instance, when the noble patriots of America, declared themselves a free and independent people, they hoisted an ensign, upon which was inscribed an appropriate motto, which they carried with them into the field of battle, where they manfully maintained their cause. This ensign was a new one; hence, it signified, that a new nation had, or was just in the act of taking its place in rank of political governments. Therefore, this ensign of

p. 122

the Lord, implies nothing more nor less, than His kingdom established on this land, figuratively speaking, with its flag, the banner of truth or the gospel, held up to the world, which plainly indicates, not only its character, but shows that God has established a rallying point for His people: or in short, as the prophetic vision rolled before the prophet's mind, he saw the establishment of the kingdom of God in the latter-days upon this continent, from whence the servants of the Lord shall go, and proclaim the fullness of the everlasting gospel to all the nations of the earth. This corresponds with my previous dissertation upon what Daniel says about the "stone of the mountain." Mr. Jackson a Jew by birth, and an excellent Hebrew scholar, and also the editor of a periodical called "The Jew," says, while discoursing upon this vision of Isaiah, that the work of God, will commence in America, that will ultimately effect the restoration of the house of Israel, and prepare the way for the appearance of the Messiah. And to me, the subject is perfectly plain; therefore, I set it down as a fact, which is incontrovertible, that the Lord has foretold by Isaiah, that he would first organize His kingdom in the latter-days upon this land.

The prophet after speaking of this ensign, illustrates by figures, the awful destruction, and calamity that will come upon the wicked soon after this kingdom is organized, and the messengers or servants of the Lord are sent to the nations, which harmonizes with what John says, in the latter part of the xiv chap. of his Revelation. The prophet concludes by saying, that a people that were "scattered and trodden down," shall be brought to Zion, for a present to the Lord.

Isaiah speaks of this ensign in another place thus "And He will lift up an ensign to the nations from far, and will hiss unto them from the end of the earth: and, behold they shall come with speed swiftly." * The reader will see, by an

* Is. v, 26.

p. 123

examination of the context, that the above is a latter-day work, which is evident from the fact, the ensign is to be first raised, and then the work that is to follow immediately after, is the gathering of the house of Israel from their dispersed condition. But it is evident, that the prophet does not allude to any ensign, that ever was, or will be, first lifted up at Jerusalem: for this reason, he says it was to be lifted up "from far," that is, upon some distant land. He certainly would not have said this of anything that was to transpire in his own neighborhood.

Thus far I have commented upon the evidence, that I have presented, upon somewhat of an extensive scale, in order to settle the question with regard to the place where the kingdom of God of the last days, was to be established, and thus to lay a good foundation for my argument; but hereafter, I shall comment upon the testimony in a more general way. Indeed, a prospect of more volubility than I desire at present, admonishes me to pursue this course. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Letter VII: Cowdery vs Phelps, fact vs. speculation

Reaching a consensus about Book of Mormon geography will become more feasible once everyone distinguishes between fact and speculation. More and more people are reading Oliver Cowdery's Letter VII. I'm getting reports from all over, and I think it's fantastic. Not many Church members realize that the lack of consensus about Book of Mormon geography hinges on the two-Cumorah theory still being promoted by some Church scholars (because it's the only way they can rationalize the Central American (Mesoamerican) setting). Most Church members reject the two-Cumorah theory when they do find out about it--especially after they read Letter VII.

I hope that, by the end of 2016 (the Gospel Doctrine year of the Book of Mormon), every member of the Church reads Letter VII.

If you haven't read it yet, get going.


As I point out in my little commentary book, Letter VII was originally published in the Messenger and Advocate in 1835 as part a series of exchanges between Oliver Cowdery and W.W. Phelps. Then Joseph Smith instructed his scribes to copy Oliver's letters into his journal as part of his history. Then Orson Pratt copied parts of Letter VII into his widely read pamphlet, An Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions (1840). Then Benjamin Winchester copied it into his Gospel Reflector (March 15, 1841). Then Don Carlos Smith copied it into the Times and Seasons (Vol. 2, No. 12, April 15, 1841). Then the letters were compiled into a pamphlet in England. (BTW, you can now read my book that explains all of this on Book of Mormon Central here.)

It is important to recognize that, with the exception of the original publication in the Messenger and Advocate, no one reprinted the responses from W.W. Phelps. 

I'll explain why in a moment, but first look at what the various publications had to say.

Here's the introduction to the British pamphlet:

We have frequently been solicited to publish, in pamphlet form, the following letters of Oliver Cowdery, addressed to W.W. Phelps. We at last avail ourselves of the opportunity to do so, being fully assured that they will be read with great interest by the Saints generally; while from the peculiar work on which they treat, together with the spirit of truthfulness in which they are written, not forgetting their style as compositions, we have no doubt but that many of the honest-hearted may, by their perusal, be led to a further examination of those principles, the origin of which is therein set forth.

It will be understood that Brother Phelps wrote answers to these letters, which generally contained some questions upon the subject treated of, accounting for the style in which they are written.

Here is Winchester's introduction:

The following Letters of Oliver Cowdery were first published in the "Messenger and Advocate," in Kirtland, Ohio, A. D. 1834-5. Believing they will be read with great interest, and satisfactorily received by all our patrons; therefore, we cheerfully insert them in the "Gospel Reflector.”* Indeed, the particularities, and important incidents, connected with the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, have ever been, and are now, a subject of inquiry. The following Letters contain all the information necessary upon that subject.

N.B. They were written to W. W. Phelps, who wrote answers to them ; but we shall not publish them: for he was also a member of the society; and his letters were generally brief — questions upon the above subject. This will account for the style in which the following are written.

Don Carlos never mentioned Phelps when he republished the letters.

Orson Pratt didn't mention Phelps when he extracted Letter VII.

So why did everyone ignore Phelps' responses?

Oliver Cowdery emphasized that he wrote the letters with the assistance of Joseph Smith and assured his readers that the account "shall be founded upon facts."

By contrast, Phelps' responses contained speculation and rhetorical flourishes that far overstepped the bounds of fact, such as this: "the Commissioners stated that "thirty tribes, containing a population of 156,310, have held treaties with the United States, and that there is an Indian population east of the Mississippi, of 92,676,"-making a total of 405,286. Now allowing the same number west of the Mountains, and suppose 800,000, in the northern regions of the Canadas, and 500,000 in South America, there will be 2,110,562 of the sons of Joseph, and of the remnants of the Jews."

No one reprinted Phelp's responses because no one was interested in reprinting Phelps' speculations.

It's also important to note that in the same issue of the Gospel Reflector, Winchester speculated about the geography question: "At length they [the Nephites] commenced settlements in the region of country, not far from the Isthmus of Darien,"

Winchester was likely influenced by Orson Pratt. After quoting from Oliver's letters in his pamphlet, Orson Pratt speculated that "The Lamanites, at that time,  dwelt in South America, and the Nephites in North  America... This war commenced at the Isthmus of Darien, and was very destructive  to both nations for many years."

When Joseph Smith wrote the Wentworth letter based on Pratt's pamphlet, he edited out all of Pratt's speculation and explained, simply, that "The principal nation of the second race fell in battle towards the close of the fourth century. The remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country."

Oliver Cowdery's Letter VII explains that, as a matter of fact, the final battles of the Nephites took place in New York at the Hill Cumorah. Joseph Smith's Wentworth letter dismisses all the other speculation and declares that the remnant of Lehi's people are the Indians that inhabited the United States circa 1842.

Seems pretty clear, doesn't it?

I hope we can all put a pin in the map at Cumorah in New York and do away with the so-called "two-Cumorah theory" once and for all. Then we can think about the plain language of the Wentworth letter.

WARNING: When you read the Wentworth letter, don't read it from the Church manual Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith. The curriculum committee was influenced by the Mesoamerican proponents and deleted the critical parts of the Wentworth letter. If you have the manual, go to p. 441 and you'll see the ellipses. Here's what they deleted:

"In this important and interesting book the history of ancient America is unfolded, from its first settlement by a colony that came from the Tower of Babel at the confusion of languages to the beginning of the fifth century of the Christian era. We are informed by these records that America in ancient times has been inhabited by two distinct races of people. The first were called Jaredites and came directly from the Tower of Babel. The second race came directly from the city of Jerusalem about six hundred years before Christ. They were principally Israelites of the descendants of Joseph. The Jaredites were destroyed about the time that the Israelites came from Jerusalem, who succeeded them in the inheritance of the country. The principal nation of the second race fell in battle towards the close of the fourth century. The remnant are the Indians that now inhabit this country."

There is tremendous irony here. Joseph opened the Wentworth letter by writing, "As Mr. Bastow has taken the proper steps to obtain correct information, all that I shall ask at his hands is that he publish the account entire, ungarnished, and without misrepresentation."

It turns out, it wasn't Mr. Bastow Joseph had to be worried about. It was the Church Curriculum Committee and the Mesoamerican proponents. If you want to see some first-class sophistry, read what the Mesoamerican proponents have written about the Wentworth letter.

Fortunately, you can still find the entire Wentworth letter on here.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Isaiah on Lehi's route to America

I'm cross-posting this from my Gospel Doctrine blog because of the different readership. Hopefully this can be one more step toward reaching a consensus.

Lesson 5 addressed the question of which way Lehi sailed when he left the Arabian peninsula.
Lehi had to sail southwest or southeast

As a reminder, here is the graphic from that lesson.

In my analysis, I discussed what Nephi wrote about the voyage, including their preparations. I proposed that Lehi sailed west, down the coast of Africa, and across the Atlantic to North America. I also discussed the voyage of the Phoenicia as a modern-day example of Lehi's voyage would have taken place, using actual ocean current, prevailing winds, and even 600 BC technology.

Apart from what Nephi wrote, there is another reason to conclude that Lehi's group sailed west instead of east.

Isaiah prophesied that he would.

Isaiah 18:1 refers to "the land shadowing with wings, which is beyond the rivers of Ethiopia." Victor L. Ludlow, in his book Isaiah: Prophet, Seer, and Poet, notes that modern prophets and apostles have identified this verse as describing America. I'll get into the detail of that below, but first, why would Isaiah describe America as "beyond the rivers of Ethiopia?"

Anciently, Ethiopia (also called Cush) was the land south of Egypt, as shown in this maps.

The Israelites to whom Isaiah was speaking were not familiar with Ethiopia; it was just the undefined area south of Egypt.

It's exactly where Lehi sailed when he left the Arabian peninsula, as you can see from the map above.

Brother Ludlow gives an alternative explanation of the Hebrew:

"the identification of the 'land shadowing with wings' with America gives us a basis for studying the rest of the chapter. The remainder of verse 1 and the first part of verse 2 can be translated as follows:

Which land is [far] beyond the rivers of Cush [Africa]. He sends out envoys by sea and in swift vessels of reeds over the face of the waters." (VLL translation)

Obviously, the land of America is beyond the rivers of Africa; indeed, it is beyond the ocean surrounding Africa. In biblical Hebrew, a term for ocean does not exist, but particularly large bodies of water are called rivers or seas, so that the land beyond the 'rivers' of Africa might also mean beyond the oceans of Africa."

Brother Ludlow's explanation clarifies that Isaiah is referring to the land beyond the oceans of Africa--not the oceans of India. It's an important distinction and clarification.

Although Nephi never directly quotes from Isaiah 18, surely he was familiar with these passages. He and Lehi would have realized that the promised land, where the Lord would raise the gospel ensign in the latter days, was "beyond the oceans of Africa" and so he knew which direction to sail.

With the benefit of hindsight, we should be able to figure this out ourselves.

(I think some of Nephi's prophecies that don't quote Isaiah directly are paraphrasing or referring to Isaiah 18, but I don't have time to explain that here. Just look at a "nation scattered" and realize that the phrase "whose land the rivers have spoiled" is usually translated as "whose land the rivers divide" or "whose land is divided by rivers." Then recall that Mormon tells us the land of Zarahemla and the land of Nephi were "nearly surrounded by water" and you'll get the idea.)


Here is more detail for those interested:

Isaiah 18:1-3 reads:

Woe to the land shadowing with wings, which is beyond the rivers of Ethiopia : that sendeth ambassadors by the sea, even in vessels of bulrushes upon the waters, saying go, ye swift messengers, to a nation scattered and peeled, to a people terrible from their beginning hitherto, a nation meted out and trodden down, whose land the rivers have spoiled ! All ye inhabitants of the world, and dwellers on the earth see ye, when he lifteth up an ensign on the mountains ; and when he bloweth the trumpet hear ye."

The "land shadowing with wings" has long been interpreted by LDS leaders and authors to refer to the Americas. Hyrum Smith famously said "the gathering will be from  the nations to North and South America, which is the land of  Zion. North and South America are the symbols of the wings; the gathering from the old countries will always be to head quarters." 

Brother Ludlow's book discusses the interpretation aspects of this in more detail. The book Understanding Isaiah by Don and Jay Parry also has a good discussion on the topic.

One blogger has noted this: Joseph Fielding Smith said the following in the April 1966 General Conference, "America was discovered because the Lord willed it. The gospel was restored in America, rather than in some other land because the Lord willed it. This is the land "shadowing with wings" spoken of by Isaiah that today is sending ambassadors by the sea to a nation scattered and peeled, which at one time was terrible in the beginning (Isaiah 18:1-2). Now that nation is being gathered, and once again they shall be in favor with the Lord." (Joseph Fielding Smith, Conference Report, April 1966, pp. 12-15).


Bonus material.

Since I'm working on a Church history book that will be released soon, those interested in detail might enjoy this little tidbit.

Hyrum Smith's statement is widely quoted as if it was the first allusion to Isaiah 18 that connects the passage with North America. However, as near as I can tell, he got the idea from Benjamin Winchester.

Two points to begin with. First, Hyrum Smith was visiting Winchester in Philadelphia in May 1841, shortly after Winchester published his interpretation in the April 1 Gospel Reflector. Second, Hyrum purchased a bound copy of all the editions of the Gospel Reflector. Whether he learned this interpretation direction from Winchester during his visit or whether he read about it later, it does appear he got the idea from Winchester.

In the April 1, 1841, Gospel Reflector, Winchester quoted Isaiah 18:1-3 and then wrote the following long explanation. Before quoting it, I note two things. First, Winchester was providing his own translation of the Hebrew characters, which he reproduced in the Gospel Reflector but I don't show here. Second, he was thinking of Ethiopia as North Africa, which makes sense because he's thinking of Isaiah looking at it from Palestine, but I don't think Winchester was right about that. Obviously, one can't see over the horizon from Palestine. Instead, I think Isaiah was anticipating Lehi's journey to the promised land, as I explained above.

Still, Winchester's overlooked commentary has been very influential because of the impact it had on Hyrum Smith.

So here is Winchester in his own words:

That the residence of Isaiah was in Palestine no one disputes : therefore in order to comprehend this saying it,is necessary for us to imagine ourselves standing on that land, and then look in the direction of Ethiopia (consequently West,) to find a land beyond the rivers of Ethiopia. The North part of Africa, or the Barbary States were anciently called Ethiopia. The land of America is the only land that will answer his description. However we opine that an improvement in the translation of the above may be made with propriety, which will throw much more light upon the subject.

We read, or translate it thus :

[Hebrew characters]

Ho! to a land in the shadow (or symbol or the appearance) of wings, Which is beyond the rivers of Ethiopia.” Now it is probable that he saw this land in a vision, and indeed, whoever will look at the map of North and South America, will discover that they are very much in the shape of the wings of a bird : hence he breaks out with the interjection, " Ho ! to a land, &c.," and then predicts what shall be done :
" That sendeth ambassadors by the sea, even in vessels of [Hebrew characters]  papyrus upon the waters." Historians say that papyrus was a flagy shrub that anciently growed in the marshes near the river Nile, and that the bark of it was used to make ropes and sails for ships, covering and wearing apparel, &c. : and the roots were used for fuel, and building ships. The word vessel in the bible is ambiguous ; therefore, he used the word papyrus to signify water crafts, sufficient to escort the servants of God over the sea.

Now reader the subject is perfectly plain ; and as the prophetic vision rolled before the prophet's mind, he saw first, a land in the shape of wings, beyond the rivers of Ethiopia, which is the land of America, for the most obvious reason, there is no other land in the shape of wings beyond Ethiopia. And his saying the rivers of Ethiopia, instead of the land, places the direction immediately West from Jerusalem.

Second, he saw that the ambassadors of the Lord should be sent from this land ; third, that they should be transported over the sea in vessels or ships, of what he called papyrus, perhaps for the want of a better term to express his meaning, (for the present model of ships was then unknown.) It is probable that this generation, in the vision with all its works was present before him ; therefore, he saw our majestic ships with all their sails set, which looked to him like the sails that were anciently made of papyrus- Fourth, he said they should be sent from this land to a nation that was terrible from the beginning ; but hitherto meted out and trodden down. The Israelites were a terrible people from the beginning; but they have been trodden down, and scattered to the islands of the sea, and among all the nations of the earth. Thus the servants of God are to go from this land to all nations to proclaim the gospel, and gather Israel. Fifth, he describes this land as being the place where the ensign was to be lifted up, and where the gospel trump should be blown first, in the last days.

He also said, " all the inhabitants of the earth see ye, and when he bloweth the trumpet hear ye." Indeed, the Book of Mormon has come forth on this land, and the Lord has sent his angel to confer the holy priesthood upon his servants once more, or renewed the gospel dispensation, and organized his kingdom, &c., and in a word the Lord's banner is exposed to view upon this land, and all men are invited to both see, and hear. This corresponds with what the prophet
says in another place, which we have before quoted, " And he will lift up an ensign from afar and will hiss unto them from the end of the earth, and they shall come with speed swiftly." Some have enquired, saying, if Israel is to be gathered upon the land of their fathers, why not this ensign be raised upon the land of Canaan where the prophets received their revelations, instead of this land ?

Answer: because the scriptures say, that it shall be done here — on a land beyond the rivers of Ethiopia. Indeed, this is a land from whence the ambassadors of the Lord shall go forth to all nations ; and instead of missionaries being sent here from Europe by divine direction, the servants of God shall be sent from this land. Some of those ships that
the prophet saw have already escorted some of the servants of God to other nations, and ere long they will go to earth's remotest bounds.

It is the work of Jehovah and he will roll it forth till his covenant people are gathered, and the way prepared for the kingdom of heaven. This is the land of Joseph — the place where Zion will be located and established for the Millennium*. The law of God shall go forth from this to all nations — the work of deliverance has commenced here to deliver Israel from captivity, and turn ungodliness from Jacob.

* We shall hereafter prove from the scriptures that this Zion is to be located in America.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Opposition vs Understanding

When I was a teenager, our family visited Spain. One of my brothers bought a traditional wine skin bottle that was pretty fun to drink out of because you could squirt the liquid a long distance and try to catch it in your mouth (we didn't use it for wine). However, it takes ongoing effort and care to keep an authentic goat skin flexible; most people don't have the patience. After a while the wineskins get brittle and start to crack. As Mark 2:22 points out, an old wineskin can burst if you put new wine into it.

I analogize this to the new understanding of Church history and Book of Mormon historicity that I've been discussing on these blogs.

In the spirit of Mark 2:22, we're offering new wine, and people have to decide if they are old bottles or new bottles. The North American geography is new wine for many people, and in some cases, "the new wine doth burst the bottles, and the wine is spilled." But unlike the ruined container in the parable, people can choose whether to be flexible and open--new bottles--or rigid and fragile--old bottles.

Lately I've had people tell me they think it will take a new generation to embrace the North American geography because the older generations have been so deeply indoctrinated in the Mesoamerican theory. But I don't find that at all. I know older people who are enthusiastic about the North American setting, and I know young people--well, college-age--who resist it because it's not what they were taught in Primary, Seminary, Institute, BYU, etc. So I don't think it's a matter of age, but a matter of temperament and openness.

One way to tell if you, or anyone else, is an old bottle or a new bottle is whether, when you encounter a new idea, you first seek to oppose or to understand. I'm not going to write a sermon or essay about this, but think about how Ammon found acceptance among the Lamanites.

With regard to Book of Mormon geography, if you've long believed in, or at least accepted, the Mesoamerican theory of geography, you've also accepted the so-called "Two-Cumorah" theory; i.e., that the Cumorah in New York where Joseph got the plates was not the Cumorah mentioned in the Book of Mormon, the scene of the final Jaredite and Nephite battles. That Cumorah is somewhere in Mesoamerica.

So how do you react when you learn about what Oliver Cowdery wrote about this specific topic in Letter VII? Oliver he said it was a fact that the final battles took place in New York, and that Moroni said the record was written and deposited not far from Joseph's home. Do you oppose what he wrote? Do you insist he was mistaken, or speculating, or merely repeating a myth? Or do you seek to understand why Joseph Smith had his scribes copy Oliver's statement into his own journal, why Joseph had Letter VII republished multiple times during his lifetime, and why the single New York Cumorah was unequivocally accepted by every Church leader for a hundred years?

Another example. When you hear that the Book of Mormon text describes North America, do you try to understand that concept or do you reject it because you've been taught all your life to think in terms of an hourglass shape, with the narrow neck meaning Central America (as if Mormon was using Google earth to keep track of things)? Do you strain at a gnat and swallow a camel? Do you impose requirements for the North American setting that you would never think to impose on the Mesoamerican setting? Do you seek illusory "correspondences" to make up for the total absence of Mesoamerican culture, terminology, and biomes in the text? Do you proceed on the basis that Joseph Smith translated the text wrong because he didn't know what a tapir or jaguar or a jade stone was?

In the pursuit of consensus, I encourage everyone to understand all sides of the issue. The more people know about all the issues, the more likely we will come to a consensus.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Brief overview

There are a lot of new people coming to this blog so here's a brief overview of what we're doing here.

Most readers of the Book of Mormon naturally want to know where the events took place. Where in the New World did Lehi land? Where was Zarahemla? Where was Cumorah?

In recent decades, LDS scholars have claimed the Book of Mormon took place in Central America (Mesoamerica). Their work has infiltrated Church media, lesson manuals, and literature. The origin of the theory is a series of anonymous articles in the 1842 Times and Seasons, the Church newspaper in Nauvoo. I researched the origin of those articles and wrote a book called The Lost City of Zarahemla. Basically, the focus on Mesoamerica has been a huge mistake, based on a faulty premise, and this blog seeks to correct the mistake by encouraging LDS scholars and those who have accepted their theories to take another look at the issue.

For about a hundred years, the only certain Book of Mormon location was Cumorah; i.e., the hill Cumorah near Palmyra in New York was the same Cumorah where the Nephites (and Jaredites) had the final battles that destroyed their civilizations.

Then, in the 1930s, some scholars claimed Cumorah had to be in Mesoamerica (the so-called Two Cumorah theory). in 1936, Joseph Fielding Smith, who by then had been an Apostle for 26 years and Church Historian and Recorder for 15 years (he was Assistant Church Historian for 15 years before that), addressed the Two Cumorah theory in words that, sadly, are just as true today as they were then:

"This modernistic theory of necessity, in order to be consistent, must place the waters of Ripliancum and the Hill Cumorah some place within the restricted territory of Central America, notwithstanding the teachings of the Church to the contrary for upwards of 100 years. Because of this theory some members of the Church have become confused and greatly disturbed in their faith in the Book of Mormon. It is for this reason that evidence is here presented to show that it is not only possible that these places could be located as the Church has held during the past century, but that in very deed such is the case."

I wrote about Cumorah in my book Letter VII: Oliver Cowdery's Message to the World about the Hill Cumorah. In Letter VII, Oliver Cowdery described the last battle and said it was a fact that the final battles took place there in New York. Joseph Smith had his scribes copy Cowdery's description into his own journal. Letter VII was republished several times before Joseph died in 1844. It was accepted doctrine, as Joseph Fielding Smith explained.

Nevertheless, many LDS scholars, including those affiliated with BYU, to this day reject Cowdery's Letter VII, along with the New York Cumorah. Right now, this semester, in 2016, BYU students are still being taught the Mesoamerican theory.

I find that appalling.

At the same time, I empathize with the scholars. They've published Mesoamerican material for decades. They've traveled to Mesoamerica, taken tours, and tried every which way to find "correspondences" between Nephite and Mayan culture. It's not easy to change one's views, especially when one's career has focused on a particular theory. For decades, I, too, accepted the Mesoamerican theory.

I'm a lawyer by profession, and I have degrees in business and economics, and I've been involved with science in my work as a lawyer, educator, and venture capitalist, so I'm pretty much an empiricist. I think truth is truth; i.e., spiritual truth is also manifest in the physical world. I wanted to test a hypothesis: If Cumorah is in New York, and Zarahemla is in Iowa (see D&C 125), does the text describe a North American setting with those two pins in the map? The result is my book, Moroni's America. I think the Book of Mormon text describes North America, with Lehi landing in Florida, the city of Nephi in Tennessee, the city of Zarahemla across from Nauvoo in Iowa, the land of Zarahemla extending through Illinois, Cumorah in New York, etc. It's all spelled out in the book and in various web pages.

This blog is not going through the geography point-by-point. In fact, I don't want the scholars to simply take my word for it. I want them to clear their minds of the Mesoamerican ideology and take a fresh look at the text. I want them to test the same hypothesis I did; i.e., that Oliver Cowdery and Joseph Smith were correct about Cumorah. If they do so, I think they'll reach the same conclusions I have about Book of Mormon geography.

Meanwhile, I hope LDS people everywhere will take the time to learn about these things because it is faith affirming to realize that Joseph and Oliver were 1) consistent and 2) accurate. The Book of Mormon did take place in North America, in the area currently known as Florida, Tennessee, New York, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, etc.